CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Email sent 20/11/07

Professor John Wanna,
Griffith University

Caution: 'Sunshine past offers a glimpse of Rudd's style'

I should like to congratulate you on the accuracy of your recent observations about the Goss Government era in Queensland in which the present Opposition leader (Mr Rudd) played a very prominent role - and also to provide some feedback on the basis of detailed study of, and long involvement in, the issues it raised.

My interpretation of your article: Kevin Rudd has some form in government already - both in the diplomatic service and as the second most powerful person under the Goss Government in Queensland (or perhaps the most powerful). Rudd believed that governments should be proactive in policy - but rational and pragmatic. He also fought to increase premiers' powers in COAG. Some expect that Rudd might again behave as he did in Queensland - which would make him seem some form of recidivist. The Goss government was a control freak's dream. The government was dismissive of caucus, ministers were relieved of policy responsibility and media control / political spin were highly centralised. Rudd was regarded as a centrist controller, distrustful of professionals and someone who did not suffer fools gladly. He was convinced there were right answers to policy questions. He was nicknamed Dr Death (amongst other things) and was accused (with others) of arranging the notorious 'gulag'. Rudd ran a large, activist and hands-on cabinet office with an ambitious policy purview. It often over-rode ministers - and developed a culture of adversarial relations with the public service. It pretended to concentrate all policy at the centre. Rudd diagnosed Queensland's problem as lack of policy capacity, unresponsive departments and poor leadership across the public service. His view in the Commonwealth Government will be different. It has a larger and more competent public service. Rudd has learned from his youthful exuberance, and will be a minister not a bureaucrat. He learned from the Goss Government's rejection by electorate in 1995 and 1996. If he becomes Prime Minister he will have to work through cabinet, ministers with their own power bases, and caucus. He has already announced the formation of a razor gang and may tinker with performance pay. Similar signals got the Queensland Public Services' back up in 1990s. Rudd is learning. The task of managing the Commonwealth will be approached differently. He has learned not to do things the Queensland way (Wanna J. 'Sunshine past offers a glimpse of Rudd's style', Australian, 17-18/11/07).

There is no doubt, as your article suggests, that the Queensland Public Service was grossly mismanaged under the Goss administration.

Moreover, what you identified as Mr Rudd's diagnosis of the Public Service's problem (ie a lack of policy capability, coordination and leadership) was fairly insightful. Some of those limitations probably reflect the 'curse' of Queensland's natural resource wealth (see options for reform suggested in The Upper House Solution: A Commentary). Others reflect neglect in the 1980s. However Mr Rudd's diagnosis was too narrow, as weakness in public policy capability and in effective leadership of large complex organizations extend throughout the community generally.

Unfortunately the Goss administration did not understand that it was itself a symptom of Queensland' problems.

What was done to the Public Service by the Goss Government made a bad situation much worse (see Queensland's Worst Government?). Mr Rudd may not have suffered fools gladly, but it was clear that someone did. Practical performance was poor. The careers of large numbers of innocent people were damaged or destroyed - including those who had previously diagnosed Queensland's problems and were trying to solve them in a more responsible and less 'youthfully exuberant' way. Queensland's Public Service remains to this day devoid of professional or moral credibility because of the disgraceful abuses associated with that era. And government administration in Queensland has remained dysfunctional and crisis prone.

I would find confidence in your assurance about Mr Rudd having learned not to do things in the Queensland way if current ALP proposals for reform of the Commonwealth Public Service did not sound so much like those of the Goss Government (see Smart Casual Kevin: 'Learning' in and 'Outgrowing' the Queensland Public Service?).

I also find it to be of concern that:

  • you suggest that the Commonwealth Public Service is a larger and more professional body which would not require much reform - whereas it clearly has been subjected to the same sort of politicisation and centralization that disabled Queensland's Public Service (eg see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service and Decay of Australian Public Administration); and
  • Mr Rudd reportedly suggested (Wright L., 'Policy flood in first weeks', Sunday Mail, 18/11/07) that a particular target for 'cutting fat' from the Commonwealth Public Service would be the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, an agency it appears that for some publicly unknown reason Mr Rudd found it convenient to also 'outgrow' early in his career.

I sincerely hope that you are wrong in implying that Mr Rudd's 'sunshine past' offers a glimpse of his style as a prospective prime minister.


John Craig